The University of Maryland recently announced its intention to join the Big Ten, becoming the first institution ever to leave the ACC to join another conference. This move caught the ACC off guard, and was especially surprising given Maryland is one of the original seven charter members of the conference. While the Terrapins are still in the conference, let’s reminisce over the nearly 60 year history of Maryland’s ACC association by recounting the top ten defining basketball moments over that time span.
#10 – “The UCLA of the East” (1969)
Before legendary coach Lefty Driesell coached Maryland, he had transformed Davidson from a doormat into a power, winning Southern Conference titles in five out of six years from 1964 to 1969, and reaching the NCAA tourney Elite Eight in the last two of those seasons. When he left Davidson to take the Maryland head job, the Terps had been struggling. Frank Fellows lasted only two years as head coach, compiling a 16-34 overall record, including an abysmal 6-22 conference mark. So the charismatic and colorful Lefty made national attention immediately. During his introductory press conference in College Park, he announced his intention to turn the Maryland program into the “UCLA of the East.” The quote followed Driesell for his entire career.
#9 – 1958 ACC Tournament Championship
Maryland, coached by Bud Millikan, rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit to beat North Carolina in the finals. Charles McNeil hit five straight second half jumpers in a come from behind 86-74 victory over the defending national champions. The Terps were the first team outside the state of North Carolina to win the ACC tourney, and it would be more than a quarter century before Maryland would win another one.
#8 – Len Bias Puts on a Show at the Dean Dome (1986)
Len Bias was already a star, but his performance on February 20, 1986 elevated him into another realm. He led Maryland to a 77-72 win, handing UNC their first loss in the Dean E. Smith Center. It wasn’t just the 35 points he scored, it was the way he scored them. He made clutch-play after clutch-play and his overall dominance of the number one ranked Tar Heels had observers picking up their jaws from the floor and asking, “could Bias become better than Jordan?”
#7 – 2004 ACC Tournament Championship
Maryland entered the 2004 ACC Tournament as the #6 seed and needing to make some noise to earn an NCAA tournament bid. The Terps drew the most difficult bracket possible, having to beat the top three seeds in three straight days to win the title. The first game was against Wake Forest, and Maryland survived a 30-point outburst by freshman Chris Paul to squeak out the upset, 87-86, on John Gilchrist’s game-winning free throw. Gilchrist stepped up again in the semifinals, scoring 30 points as Maryland overcame a 21-point deficit to knock off NC State 85-82. Gilchrist locked up his tourney MVP award in the finals, scoring 26 as Maryland beat Duke in overtime, 95-87. This ended Duke’s five-year streak of winning the tourney, and it was a powerful Blue Devils team featuring JJ Redick, Shelden Williams, Luol Deng and Chris Duhon. This was Gary Williams’ only ACC tournament championship and the first one for Maryland in 20 years.
#6 – Moses Malone Doesn’t Become a Terp (1974)
Maryland ended the 1973-74 season in heartbreaking fashion, losing in the ACC Tournament final and thus not qualifying to play in the NCAA tournament, despite being one of the elite teams in the nation. Coach Lefty Driesell got a nice consolation prize after the season, when Moses Malone committed to play at Maryland. Malone, from Petersburg, Virginia, had been the focus of one of the most intense recruitments in history. At Maryland, he figured to be the centerpiece for the culmination of Lefty’s “UCLA of the East” prediction. However, just before school began that fall, the ABA’s Utah Stars made Malone a lucrative offer to play in the ABA. On August 29, 1974, the day classes were to begin for him in College Park, Malone signed the ABA contract and became the first player in history to go pro directly out of high school. The Malone drama was such a big story in the area that it shared front page Washington newspaper headlines at the height of the Watergate scandal. Had “Mo” stayed at Maryland four years, his career would have overlapped with several Terp greats, including John Lucas, Maurice Howard, Brad Davis and Albert King. Instead, he got a head start on his pro career and became the greatest offensive rebounder in NBA history.
#5 – 1984 ACC Tournament Championship – Lefty’s Revenge
After so many close calls with his greatest teams, by 1984 it seemed Lefty Driesell was jinxed and would never win an ACC Tournament. The 1974 heartbreaking loss to NCSU and the 1980 finals loss to Duke (when Kenny Dennard got away with undercutting Buck Williams in the last seconds) especially haunted Lefty. Then in 1984, sophomore sensation Len Bias did not get voted onto the All-ACC team. Motivated by the voters’ snub, he predicted he would be the ACC tournament MVP. Bias made good on the prediction, scoring 26 to beat Duke in the final, winning the MVP award and giving Lefty his first and only ACC championship. The Terps beat NCSU and Wake Forest in the first two rounds, before dispatching the Blue Devils, 74-62.
#4 – 2001 Final Four Appearance
Maryland reached its first Final Four in 2001, only to run up against a Duke team that had beaten the Terps in the ACC Tournament earlier that month. In the Final Four rematch, Maryland jumped out to a 22 point first half lead, at 39-17. Duke, led by Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer, Jason Williams and Chris Duhon, clawed back into the game and won it 95-84. Maryland fans still remember bitterly some of the questionable calls that went against the Terps in that game.
#3 – 1974 ACC Tournament Championship Loss to NC State, “Greatest Game Ever Played”
This was in the era when only conference champions were invited to the NCAA Tournament. The ACC has always determined its official champion by the ACC Tournament, and the 1974 ACC tournament final was a grudge match between powerhouses Maryland and NC State, arguably two of the top three teams in the nation (along with UCLA). Lefty Driesell’s team featured six future NBA draft picks, including John Lucas, Tom McMillen, Len Elmore and Mo Howard. NC State was led by the consensus greatest player in ACC history, David Thompson, with All-American Tommy Burleson and Monte Towe starring as well. Because the loser of the game would not even be invited to the NCAA tourney, the contest was pressurized in a way modern college fans can hardly fathom. In what has been described by some as the greatest college basketball game ever played, NC State pulled out the victory in overtime, 103-100. Burleson outplayed Elmore, scoring 38 points, was named MVP of the tourney and went on to be named MVP of the NCAA Tournament as NC State won the national title, ending UCLA’s seven-year-run of NCAA dominance. The Terps were so distraught after the loss that the team voted to refuse an invite to the NIT, deeming that tourney as being beneath them. That Maryland team is considered the best not to make the NCAA tourney. Because of the unfairness of that situation, the NCAA changed its rules the following year to allow more than one team per conference to be invited.
#2 – Death of Len Bias (1986)
The legendary Len Bias had just been selected as second overall pick in the NBA Draft by Boston, the defending NBA champions. It didn’t seem fair for the Celtics to reload by adding Bias, who at the time compared favorably to young Michael Jordan. Larry Bird would be able to pass the baton to Bias and the Celts appeared destined for another decade of greatness. The dream scenario turned into a nightmare overnight, when Bias tragically died from a cocaine overdose in his dorm room two days after the draft. The repercussions of his death were far-ranging, and included Coach Driesell losing his job and a new wave of harsher anti-drug laws being introduced across the nation.
#1 – Maryland wins the NCAA Championship (2002)
Gary Williams made it back to the Final Four, and this time his team was not to be denied, defeating traditional powers Kansas and Indiana to complete the title run in Atlanta. The Terps were led by Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter, Steve Blake and Chris Wilcox, and finished with a 32-4 record. This was Maryland’s first NCAA men’s basketball title, and the first ever won by an ACC team not from the state of North Carolina (Duke, UNC and NC State have each won multiple titles).